Until the flooding of Glen Canyon formed Lake Powell, this area was one of the most remote regions in the contiguous 48 states. However, since the construction of Glen Canyon Dam in the 1960s, this remote and rugged landscape has become one of the country’s most popular national recreation areas. Today, the lake and much of the surrounding land, designated the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, attracts around two million visitors each year. The otherworldly setting amid the slickrock canyons of northern Arizona and southern Utah is a tapestry of colors, the blues and greens of the lake contrasting with the reds and oranges of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. This interplay of colors and vast desert landscapes easily makes Lake Powell the most beautiful of Arizona’s many reservoirs.
Built to provide water for the desert communities of the Southwest and West, Glen Canyon Dam stands 710 feet above the bedrock and contains almost 5 million cubic yards of concrete. The dam also provides hydroelectric power, and deep within its massive wall of concrete are huge power turbines. At the Carl Hayden Visitor Center (tel. 928/608-6200), located beside the dam on U.S. 89 just north of Page, you can tour the dam and learn about its construction. (Tours are $5 and last about an hour.) Between mid-May and mid-September, the visitor center is open daily 8am to 6pm; November to February, it’s open daily 8am to 4pm; other months, it’s open daily 8am to 5pm (it’s closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas).
In addition to the Carl Hayden Visitor Center mentioned above, there's the Bullfrog Visitor Center, in Bullfrog, Utah (tel. 435/684-7423). It's open intermittently from May to early October; call for hours.
More than 500 feet deep in some places, and bounded by nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, Lake Powell is a maze of convoluted canyons where rock walls often rise hundreds of feet straight out of the water. In places, the long, winding canyons are so narrow there isn’t even room to turn a motorboat around. The only way to truly appreciate this lake is from a boat, whether a houseboat, a runabout, or a sea kayak. Water-skiing, jet-skiing, and fishing have long been the most popular on-water activities, and the lake is a hive of activity, especially in the summer months. Head up-lake from Wahweap Marina, and you’ll soon get away from the crowds and into some of the narrower reaches of the lake.
If you don’t have your own boat, you can at least see a small part of the lake on a boat tour. A variety of tours depart from Wahweap Marina (tel. 888/896-3829 or 928/645-2433), which is 5 miles north of the Glen Canyon Dam on Lake Shore Drive. Your best bet is either the 1 1/2-hour Antelope Canyon Cruise ($47 for adults, $32 for children) or the 2 1/2-hour Canyon Adventure Cruise ($75 for adults, $49 for children). To see more of the lake, opt for the full-day tour to Rainbow Bridge. Dinner cruises are also offered.
If you’d like to see more of the area than is visible from car or boat, consider taking an air tour with Westwind Scenic Air Tours (tel. 928/645-2494), which offers several tours of northern Arizona and southern Utah, including flights over Rainbow Bridge and Monument Valley. Flights board at the Page Airport (238 10th Ave.; tel. 928/645-4240). Sample rates are $135 for a 30-minute flight over Rainbow Bridge (minimum two passengers) and $273 for a 90-minute flight over Monument Valley (minimum three passengers). Children 12 and under get a 10% discount.
So, What's with the Bathtub Ring? — You'll notice that the red-rock cliff walls above the waters of Lake Powell are no longer red but are instead coated with what looks like a layer of white soap scum. Those are calcium carbonate deposits left on the rock after more than a decade of drought that, at its worst, left the lake level more than 130 feet below what is called "full pool" (when the reservoir is full). Currently, the lake level is down around 100 feet, low enough that some launch ramps are now unusable.
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Rainbow Bridge, the world’s largest natural bridge and one of the most spectacular sights in the Southwest, rises from the bedrock of a narrow canyon roughly 40 miles up the lake from Wahweap Marina and Glen Canyon Dam. Carved by wind and water over the ages, Rainbow Bridge is an awesome reminder of the powers of erosion that have sculpted this entire region. This massive natural arch of sandstone, 290 feet high with a span of 275 feet, sits within Rainbow Bridge National Monument (tel. 928/608-6200), which is administered by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Entrance is free.
Rainbow Bridge is accessible only by boat or by way of a 14-mile-long hiking trail; most visitors opt for boating. Lake Powell Resorts and Marinas (tel. 888/896-3829 or 928/645-2433) offers 6-hour tours ($122 for adults, $77 for children), departing from the Wahweap Marina in Page (100 Wahweap Blvd.;tel. 928/645-1027), which cruise through some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Tours include a box lunch and a bit more exploring after visiting Rainbow Bridge. Note: Because the lake’s water level is so low from years of drought, the boat stops more than a half-mile from Rainbow Bridge; passengers have to hike from there to see the sandstone arch.
The hike to Rainbow Bridge is about 25 miles round-trip and should be done as an overnight backpacking trip. It requires a Navajo Nation camping and hiking permit ($12 per day), available through the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department in Window Rock (tel. 928/871-6647), at the Antelope Canyon Tribal Park Office (tel. 928/698-2808), 3 miles south of Page on Navajo Rte. 20 (beside the LeChee Chapter House), or at the Cameron Visitor Center (tel. 928/679-2303) in the community of Cameron near the turnoff for the Grand Canyon.
If you've spent any time in Arizona, chances are you've noticed photos of a narrow sandstone canyon only a few feet wide. The pinkish-orange walls of the canyon seem to glow with an inner light, and beams of sunlight slice the darkness of the deep slot canyon. Sound familiar? If you've seen this, you were probably looking at a photo of Antelope Canyon (sometimes called Corkscrew Canyon). Located 2 1/2 miles southeast of Page off Ariz. 98 (at milepost 299), this photogenic canyon comprises the Antelope Canyon/Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park (tel. 928/698-2808, which is on the Navajo Nation. To visit, you will need to join a tour licensed by the Navajo Nation. Most tours last 1[bf]1/2 hours and leave from Page. Antelope Canyon Tours, 22 S. Lake Powell Blvd., tel. 866/645-9102 or 928/645-9102) operates tours to Upper Antelope Canyon and charges $45.50 for adults, $35.50 for ages 8 to 12, and $27.50 for kids 6 to 7. (Rates are discounted in January and February.) Photographic tours cost $108 (no kids allowed on these). For more on visiting Antelope Canyon with authorized tour operators, see the Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation website, www.navajonationparks.org. Just remember that if there’s even the slightest chance of rain in the region, you should not venture into this canyon, which is subject to flash floods. In the past, people who have ignored bad weather predictions have been killed by such floods.
Overland Canyon Tours, 48 S. Lake Powell Blvd. (tel. 928/608-4072) offers tours to nearby Canyon X, which is much less visited than Antelope Canyon and is a good choice for serious photographers who want to avoid the crowds. A 3-hour tour costs $80, with children under 8 admitted free.Other Area Attractions
Attractions in Page
In the town of Page, the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum (6 N. Lake Powell Blvd.; tel. 928/645-9496) tells the story of the intrepid adventurer for whom the lake is named. In 1869, Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, led a small band of men on the first boat expedition to travel the length of the Grand Canyon, spending more than 3 months fighting the rapids of the Green and Colorado rivers. Besides documenting the Powell expedition with photographs, etchings, and dioramas, the museum displays Native American artifacts ranging from Ancestral Puebloan pottery to contemporary Navajo and Hopi crafts. The museum is also an information center for Page, Lake Powell, and the surrounding region. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. It’s open daily from 9am to 5pm. (Note: This musuem is currently closed for reonvations.)
Between April and October, you can learn about Navajo culture at Navajo Village Heritage Center; (tel. 928/660-0304), a living-history center on the northeast corner of Ariz. 98 and Coppermine Rd. (on the south side of Page). Evening performances here center on programs of Native American dancing, but there are also demonstrations by weavers, silversmiths, and other artisans. Tours last 2 1/2 hours, cost $50 ($30 for children), and include dinner. Reservations are required. This is definitely touristy, but you will come away with a better sense of Navajo culture.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.